Weaselhead Preservation Society to host open house with expert panel to suggest alternative routes for ring road that will divert the Elbow River

The Southwest leg of the ring road was given the green light when the Tsuu T’ina Nation signed an agreement with Alberta Transportation in November 2013 — though not everyone is thrilled about the plan as the proposed route requires diverting the Elbow River.

Lisa Dahlseide, the executive director of the Weaselhead/Glenmore Park Preservation Society, is concerned that the proposed plan is not the best option.

The preservation society has encouraged citizens to lobby for alternative proposals. They plan to host an open house with a panel of experts including hydrologists, engineers and geologists to offer other suggestions about the layout of the ring road. Although there is no date set yet, the preservation society intends to invite members of local and provincial government.

Dahlseide said the plan for the ring road, cutting through Weaselhead Natural Area — a natural preserve of wetlands and park area in southwest Calgary — is a cause for concern and she urges the province to reconsider its plans to divert the road across the river. 

Current plans for the Southwest ring road call for two bridges to cross the Elbow River and a re-alignment of the river to accommodate the highway and its bridges.

Carrie Sancartier, a public affairs officer for Alberta Transportation, explained that the realignments planned for the Elbow River would not decrease long-term water quality or change sediment loadings.

“Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) has strict guidelines on water quality which must be followed,” she said.

Dahlseide noted that there is an open line of communication between the preservation society, the government and Alberta Transportation. 

“[Gary Lamb, project manager with Alberta Transportation] has confirmed some good news, that due to public pressure, they have decided they can avoid filling in the Beaver Pond, a valuable wetland in the Weaselhead,” Dahlseide explained.

“So, some accomplishments to celebrate,” Dahlseide said.Executive Director of the Weaselhead/Glenmore Park Preservation Society, Lisa Dahlseide, urges citizens to write letters to government to encourage the protection of the park by making a better plan for ring road—this way families, including hers, can still enjoy the Weaselhead Natural Area.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Dahlseide

Dahlseide and her team’s main concerns include the effects on the community, environment and wildlife, the realigning and restricting of the meandering system of the river and effects on water quality. In a document that was delivered to the Alberta Government, the preservation society voiced their concerns while offering potential solutions.

After the June 2013 flooding event in Calgary, the Bow River has since changed its pattern and Dahlseide is concerned that by restricting the Elbow, a similar situation may occur.

“Realigning and hardening the meandering Elbow River is a concern as the power and strength of the river under flood, as well as the effect of sediment load, is underestimated in this design,” stated the document published by the preservation society released in November, 2014.

“The ability of the river to meander across the landscape as it approaches the Glenmore reservoir will be restricted to defined channels necessitated by the causeway if constructed as proposed,” noting that all elements of the ecosystem in the Weaselhead area will be altered while simultaneously increasing the risk of forest fires over the long-term.

“The cut and fill design is still going forward,” Dahlseide said, “and  [The Alberta Government] has told us they will only change what it is that the ‘tax payers’ ask them to. So letter writing is really important at this stage in the game.”

Heavy traffic noise and light pollution in the Weaselhead areas are also a cause of concern with the proposal of the Southwest ring road, the preservation society explained.

“The berm across the valley will severely restrict the Elbow River Valley wildlife corridor. Fencing on the adjacent road will drive more wildlife into the valley, creating a funnel through the narrow bridge opening,” the document expressed.

The preservation society proposed that with new technology there are better ways to construct a road with minimal sound disturbance while simultaneously reducing the environmental implications.

The biggest cause for concern with the new roadway, however, is the implications it will have on Calgary’s water quality.

“Healthy wetlands help maintain water quality,” the society said, “loss of their ability to perform this function plus the additional sediment loading of the river will result in reduced water quality in the Glenmore reservoir.”

They suggest that the road design can be altered in such a way to minimize impacts on the sensitive wetlands.

Sancartier explained that Alberta Transportation has utilized many resources so far in order to research the potential implications to wildlife, water and the environment.

“Environmental specialists have identified potential impacts to Weaselhead Park and have recommended mitigation steps to minimize those impacts,” Sancartier said.

Despite the Weaselhead/Glenmore Park Preservation Society’s concerns and findings, because of the deal established with the Tsuu T’ina Nation, the $5-billion Southwest ring road will be built.

“The Province is expecting the land transfer to be complete in 2015,” Sancartier said, “Construction would likely commence 12 months after the transfer.”

The Tsuu T’ina Nation was contacted but refused to comment on the implications the roadway would have on environmental standards.